clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Spurs' great offseason had a hidden cost

San Antonio has more stars than ever, but an active offseason created some new problems to solve on the bench.

The San Antonio Spurs' big splashes were all about star players this offseason. In a league defined by its biggest and brightest stars, the Spurs finally decided to get in on the action by re-signing Kawhi Leonard and luring LaMarcus Aldridge from Portland. Now, the question is how Gregg Popovich plans to fill out the minutes behind his loaded starting lineup.

Unlike other teams that lean heavily on their stars and leave a hefty chunk of the roster to garbage time, the Spurs under Popovich have embraced resting their best players and expecting more from a larger cast of characters. Whether by choice or necessity as a result of building around older players like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, San Antonio has always been about the ensemble over big-time headliners.

That probably won't change even with a reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Leonard and an in-his-prime All-Star in Aldridge on the roster. Just because Leonard and Aldridge could play 38 minutes a night doesn't mean they will. Instead, as we saw with the likes of Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili in recent years, they'll likely have their playing time managed in order to stay as fresh as possible for a postseason run. It's a strategy that's worked wonders for San Antonio over the past decade. Why stray from it now?

The only possible wrench in the plan could be one of the team's longtime strengths: depth.

The Spurs' willingness to rest star players has always been born from a confidence in the team's reserves. Maxing Leonard, signing Aldridge and retaining Green ate up the team's salary cap space, though, forcing the team to let Tiago Splitter, Marco Belinelli, Aron Baynes and Cory Joseph go this summer. Those are four significant names to replace. A starting lineup featuring Aldridge, Duncan, Parker, Leonard and Green is exciting, but now the bench is more of a question mark than in years past.

There are some familiar faces (Ginobili, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw) as well as some intriguing new names (David West, Ray McCallum). The franchise's Becky Hammon-led Summer League team won the tournament in Las Vegas thanks to a pair of young players who will be on the roster (Kyle Anderson, Jonathon Simmons).

But in exchange for adding Aldridge and solidifying the starting lineup, the Spurs inherited some risk elsewhere on the roster. Here's how those questions stack up for the team entering 2015-16:

Will the Summer League stars step up on the wings?

San Antonio rolled to the Las Vegas Summer League championship this year thanks to fantastic performances by Anderson and Simmons. Now those two need to keep the momentum going and translate their success to the regular season for a team that doesn't have much depth on the wings.

Maybe it's a sign of the team's confidence in its young players, but the Spurs have little additional wing depth behind Leonard, Green and Ginobili, who isn't the same player anymore at age 37. Anderson and Simmons will have to step up and play meaningful minutes next season regardless of how much Manu has left in the tank. If his decline comes quicker than expected, that will only magnify the need for the Summer League stars to show their games can thrive outside of Las Vegas.

Simmons won the Summer League title game MVP award after pouring in 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting in the 93-90 win over the Phoenix Suns. Over seven games, he averaged 17 points, four rebounds and three assists in fewer than 25 minutes per game. Anderson, the No. 30 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, was even more impressive in averaging 21 points, six rebounds and two assists per game. The 6'9 forward is especially intriguing because of his passing ability:

Between Anderson's unique point-forward skill set and Simmons' high-flying style, the Spurs could be injected with a welcomed dose of energetic youth to a largely veteran roster. Anderson in particular could be a game-changer with his versatility if he can show the Vegas breakout wasn't a fluke.

But if both struggle more than expected, Popovich has few other options on the bench.

Who can play center?

Losing Splitter and Baynes has left the Spurs without an obvious rim protector on the bench. Duncan and Aldridge can both fit at that spot, but the team's biggest players off the bench are Diaw, West, Anderson and Matt Bonner, all of whom are 6'10 or shorter.

That means we'll likely see a lot of smaller lineups from the Spurs whenever Duncan and/or Aldridge isn't on the floor. Diaw can slide over to center and facilitate from the post in shooter-heavy groupings, and West might be able to eat some minutes there, too. None of the solutions are as simple as when they had a pair of solid backup bigs in Splitter and Baynes, though. Plus, Duncan is going to start showing signs of his age eventually, though he's held those off longer than anyone expected.

Popovich may not want to play Aldridge heavy minutes throughout the season, but accomplishing that likely will require getting creative with the frontcourt.

Can McCallum be a backup PG?

Parker played a career-low 28.3 minutes per game as a 32-year-old last season and will only get slower as time passes. The Spurs had been increasing the role of Joseph, a 2011 first-round pick, to help offset Parker's decline, but they couldn't afford to retain him as a restricted free agent this offseason. With Joseph now a member of the TorontoToronoto Raptors, the Spurs have less depth behind their aging point guard anymore.

Patty Mills will get the first crack at being the backup point guard given his familiarity with the system, and Ginobili can also run the offense for brief stretches. But McCallum, acquired from the Kings in a trade, may be needed to play as much as Joseph once did after potential in his first two seasons with Sacramento. The 24-year-old needs to improve his shooting especially to play in San Antonio's floor-spacing schemes, but he's bigger (6'3) than Mills (6'0) and roughly 13 years younger than Ginobili.

If he doesn't pan out, the Spurs may be searching for more guard help before the trade deadline.


These are small problems the Spurs will take as a price for signing Aldridge. They also might not be problems at all if  young players like Anderson and McCallum reach their potential like so many others who grew with this franchise.

Still, it's apparent the Spurs have sacrificed the end of the roster in order to accommodate the big contracts for Aldridge, Leonard and Green. How the bench stacks up could ultimately be the difference between being a very good team and a championship favorite in a competitive Western Conference.

Title contention is a fine line when there are so many teams in the mix. While the Spurs' big names get them there, the bench needs to improve to push them over the top.